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"The Arabs are even less stable than the Turks. If properly handled they would remain in a state of political mosaic, a tissue of small jealous principalities incapable of cohesion."
(1916 intelligence memo by Colonel T.E.Lawrence ‘of Arabia’
cited in Mark Curtis, Secret Affairs, Pluto Press, London, 2010, p. 9)

The Arab Spring
The Arab Awakening

The Arab Spring, also called the Arab Awakening, is a term used to refer to a wave of peaceful and violent demonstrations, civil unrest, and civil war that began with the collapse of the government in Tunisia between December 2010 and January 2011. Though the Middle East and North Africa saw the bulk of the disturbances, the widespread agitation against regimes in those regions also gave rise to similar movements or the speculation of similar movements in countries without majority Arab populations. The term Arab Spring was often used in relation to these political crises and conflicts as well.

In December 2010, widespread protests occurred against President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his regime in Tunisia. President Ben Ali fled the country on 14 January 2011, after a month of protests and rioting sparked by widespread unemployment and high food prices. When Ban Ali departed the country, interim authority fell to Fouad Mebazaa, the President of the National Assembly. Mebazaa's principal task as interim President would be to organize elections and, from an RCD perspective, maintain the party's hold on power. Continued protesting forced Mebazaa, a member of the ruling political party, to make additional concessions concerning the future of Tunisian politics.

By the end of January 2011, similar protests had begun in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak. On 1 February 2011, President Mubarak pledged that he would not stand in presidential elections in September 2011, as protestors continued to occupy Tahrir Square in Cairo demanding his immediate departure. Protestors rejected this compromise and held a "Day of Departure" rally on 4 February 2011, demanding President Mubarak immediately step down. On 11 February 2011, President Mubarak resigned, and on 13 February 2011, a military junta calling itself the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it would stay in power for six months, or until elections.

Also in February 2011, protests broke out in numerous Libyan cities, such as Benghazi and Tripoli, against the regime of Muammar Qadhafi. Similar protests occurred in Bahrain's capital Manama, against the monarchy of King Hamad. A violent crackdown followed in both countries. Government loyalists and opposition tribesmen also clashed during protests in Yemen, especially in the capital Sana'a, against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In Libya, the military and militias loyal to Qadhafi killing numerous protestors. On 26 February 2011, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1970 in response to the violent crackdown. The resolution called for an immediate end to the violence and referral of specific cases to the International Criminal Court, as well as instituting an arms embargo on Libya and freezing the assets of Muammar Qadhafi and other government officials.

In Bahrain, protestors occupied and set up camp in the Pearl Square in Manama, refusing to leave until their demands had been met. Security forces responded by surrounding the square and firing on protestors. On 14 March 2011, military and other security forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates entered Bahrain under the auspices Gulf Cooperation Council, to help Bahraini security forces respond to the unrest. On 16 March 2011, Bahraini security forces forcefully ejected protestors from the square. The statue at the center of Pearl Square, which had become a symbol of the unrest, was later demolished. Reports also surfaced that Bahraini security forces had taken control of hospitals in Manama and actively denied medical care to protestors. Major protests largely stopped after the square was retaken, but a crackdown involving the arrest of protest leaders and other figures continued.

By March 2011, anti-government rebels in Libya had begun to organize and were actively fighting forces loyal to the Libyan government. These forces would later become known as the National Transitional Council (NTC). Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for the use of force if needed, UNSC Resolution 1973 was adopted on March 17, 2011, by 10 votes to zero, with five abstentions. UNSC Resolution 1973 specifically:

Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi(...)

On 19 March 2011, the coalition, led by the United States, launched air and missile strikes on Libyan targets under the umbrella of the United States' Operation Odyssey Dawn. On 23 March 2011, NATO launched Operation Unified Protector, becoming the lead entity for a multi-national coalition conducting operations enforcing Resolution 1973. The NATO operations involved a no-fly zone, operations to protect civilians, and a naval blockade to enforce the arms embargo. On 31 March 2011, NATO took complete command of all coalition forces operating over and around Libya.

In March, protests also began in Syria against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. A violent crackdown followed, with President al-Assad vowing to defeat what he referred to as a "foreign plot." The Syrian government subsequently promised political reforms, including the legalization of political parties. Violent clashes continued, however.

In April 2011, President Saleh of Yemen rejected a Gulf Cooperation Council proposal that would have seen his resignation, leading to increased protests and clashes between his supporters and the opposition. In late April 2011, reports surfaced that President Saleh had finally agreed to a GCC proposal that would see him leave office. Violent clashes continued and on 30 April 2011, President Saleh publicly said he was rejecting the deal. The situation subsequently devolved into open fighting between military forces loyal to the government, defecting military forces, and tribal militia in the capital Sana'a in May 2011.

In late April 2011, the Syrian government decided to send military forces into cities seen as hotbeds of opposition activity. The deployments to Deraa include the use of tanks and armored personnel carriers and appeared to be similar to the Syrian crackdown in the town of Hamah in 1982. An international outcry to the escalation of violence followed, with the United States imposing various sanctions on Syria and specific governemnt officials on 29 April 2011. In spite of this, the Syrian government expanded its crackdown into May 2011, with some elements of the opposition beginning to arm themselves, leading to a fear of a civil war.

Since the Arab Spring, chaos seemed to have further engulfed the already volatile Middle East. By mid-2013, as Syria continued its sectarian civil war, some argued that state-based nationalism was declining and something larger and older was taking over. The Syrian war seemed to mark the beginning of the end for the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided the Ottoman Empire after World War I and created the modern Middle East.

The Arab Spring-uprisings, along with the geopolitical rivalry of Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, pushed the region into unchartered and dangerous waters. The sectarianism that has been unleashed may mean at the very least the end of strong unitary states for many Middle East countries. Analysts say the Middle East seemed to be heading towards a future of enfeebled states and possibly smaller ones, divided along sectarian lines and so weak they are unable to resist the influence of Saudi Arabia, Iran or Western powers or curb the activities of non-state actors like al-Qaida.

By 2015 security threats and religious extremism have provided the so-called “deep state” security agencies the opportunity to mount comebacks - as in Egypt, where figures from the era of Hosni Mubarak’s rule were key to the consolidation of power by former army chief and now President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

French scholar Jean-Pierre Filiu tracked the survival and resurgence of the Arab deep states featuring the ousted regimes’ security agencies, business associates and politicians and argued that the former regimes have benefited from Islamic extremism - a “monster they helped create.” In his book, “From Deep State to Islamic State: The Arab Counter-Revolution and its Jihadi Legacy,” he argued that while battling Islamic extremists, the former regimes also colluded with them.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:38:50 ZULU